US President Joe Biden announced $810 million in new funding for the Pacific Islands on Thursday at a first-of-its-kind summit with their leaders in Washington, promising a closer partnership with a strategic but sparsely populated region where China is moving forward.
Addressing the leaders of South Pacific states, including 12 heads of state or government, Biden said he wanted to show “enduring commitment,” adding: “The security of the United States, frankly, and the world depends on its security.” .
Referring to China’s rise in Asia, Biden said: “Much of our world’s history will be written in the Indo-Pacific in the years and decades to come, and the Pacific Islands are a critical voice in shaping that future.” “. “
The United States has been the key player in the South Pacific since its victory in World War II. But since Washington is often seen as taking the region for granted, China has asserted itself strongly through investments, police training and, most controversially, a security pact with the Solomon Islands.
Among the US pledges at the summit was $20 million for the Solomon Islands to develop tourism. In contrast to China’s hands-off mercantilism, the four-year US program will focus on empowering women and finding alternatives to logging.
– ‘existential’ climate threat –
Most of the new funding, at $600 million, will be in the form of a 10-year package across the South Pacific to clean up and develop dirty waters to support the tuna industry.
The United States will also step up support for adapting to climate change, with Biden telling leaders: “I know your nations feel it acutely; for all of you, it’s an existential threat.”
Biden separately announced that the United States would recognize the Cook Islands and Niue, a self-governing territory whose foreign and defense policy and currency are tied to New Zealand.
The step will allow the United States to increase its diplomatic presence in the Cook Islands and Niue, which have fewer than 20,000 inhabitants but constitute an expanding economic zone in the South Pacific.
Launching a new engagement strategy, Biden also appointed a veteran US ambassador to the region, Frankie Reed, as the first US envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum.
The United States earlier announced the restoration of an embassy in the Solomon Islands, and the White House said on Thursday that American embassies would also open in Tonga and Kiribati.
The US Agency for International Development will open a Pacific regional mission in Fiji by September 2023 and Peace Corps volunteers will return to Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu and possibly the Solomon Islands, the White House said.
In line with its focus on partnerships, the Biden administration recently formed Partners in the Blue Pacific with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Great Britain.
The White House said Canada and Germany will join and France, a South Pacific power, as well as the European Union, South Korea and India will participate as non-members.
– Solomon Islands View Progress –
While many Pacific leaders welcomed the US commitment, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare warned against competition between major powers.
Speaking to AFP, Sogavare said negotiations in Washington on an association declaration addressed his concerns “in a positive way.”
“We had specific problems about the inclusion of certain regional organizations like ASEAN and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, as there has been no consultation with them with the Pacific small island developing states,” Sogavare said, referring to the Southeast Asian bloc and the four-way Quad. United States, Australia, Japan and India.
Sogavare said his government had also sought to insert language about a “cessation of hostilities and a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine war.”
The United States says it has not seen any seriousness from Russia in a negotiated deal and on Wednesday approved another $1.1 billion arms package for Ukraine.
Western officials and analysts fear that Beijing will use the Solomon Islands as a base to expand militarily in the Pacific or to pressure Taiwan, an autonomous democracy claimed by China.
Sogavare has denied plans for a Chinese base, and Beijing has said its increased activity in the South Pacific “does not target any third party.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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